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Thursday, 6 May 2010

Review- GTA IV: The Lost and Damned [Xbox 360]

Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Released: 17th February 2009
Other Formats: PS3, PC

The Lost and Damned is the first of two pieces of DLC that Rockstar released for the epic GTA IV. Replacing immigrant protagonist Niko Bellic from the main game, here, biker and 'Vice president' of the 'Lost' biker gang, Johnny Klebitz is the focus of a seedy and gritty sweep into the realm of drug smuggling, inner-gang conflict and head-on gang war. The dark and menacing overtones are established early in a package that shows its balls, quite literally, as Billy, president of the 'Lost', returns after a stint in rehab. Rockstar again surpassing themselves with triple-A characterisation that is key to the whole package. Their ever impressive ability to direct superb voice work and produce top-quality facial animation making sure a strong foundation of characters are crafted- injecting the story with enough humour, banter and interesting personalities to keep the plot consistently engaging. From the insanely loose, psychotic Billy to “kiss-ass” Brian, friendly face Jim, and the calm yet troublesome Johnny.

Both the positive and negative aspects of GTA IV have made their way into the game, although a re-worked checkpoint system is great to see and removes the gripes from the first foray into Liberty City. Now, upon restarting a failed mission, the spawn point is much closer to where the action takes off meaning the often daunting repetition of getting to the right location time after time, death after death, can be forgotten this time round. The ever entertaining radio stations return, with some new heavy metal additions that provides a fitting backtrack to cruising with the gang. Upon returning to Liberty City, it's quite a shock to experience the often dreadful game play mechanics at work. It's re-treading old ground if you've already played GTA IV but if not, the sticky cover and gun combat can be extremely aggravating at times. It's difficult to get a good grasp of the way the cover mechanics work, even after an extended period of play. Add to this the often frustrating way in which the whole health system works- a non-regenerating bar which, although perfectly acceptable, is less forgiveable when health packs are no-where to be seen and GTA IV's fast food chains have been “temporarily closed”- meaning health will often be dangerously low when starting a mission. At times, I went into the mission knowing full well I would die simply to get full health upon re spawning again and re-starting the mission. If Rockstar North remain adamant that the health system works, it'd be nice to see the health bar fill for missions, at least, which are still very much a case of driving to a location, activating a cut-scene and more often than not, shooting all the enemies until another cut scene is played. Vehicle sections and side missions (bike races) help to improve the monotony that could have been endured, with two-wheeled vehicles now standing in greater stead due to improved handling. So, not a total success but missions have never been GTA's forte- instead relying on the story to create an experience that is likely to be enjoyed time and time again. It's also great to see nods to the original game in intertwining plot-lines with Niko, Roman and Demitiri whilst a brief cameo of 'Gay Tony' also points towards the following DLC release of The Ballad of Gay Tony. To tell you the fashion in which the characters are used would be to ruin the story- it's brilliant, nonetheless. Returning characters such as Elizabeta also ensure a good crossover between the two titles.

Rockstar have again delivered a top quality GTA game. The use of the gang as its main focal point means an often thrilling experience is given as a climactic conclusion draws ever nearer, Johnny every bit the match for Niko. And whilst the story can not quite keep up its pace consistently throughout, with some noticeable slowing through the middle section of the game once a main character is, again, out of the picture- it's still a release that can match GTA IV's highs for every low. New weapons are good additions, with a devastatingly frightful grenade launcher, sawn off shotgun, 'Streetsweeper', an automatic sub-machine gun, half of a pool cue and pipe bombs all keeping content feeling fresh and gun-fights consistently fun. Brilliant.

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